Friday, September 16, 2011

Spotlight Interview: Sara McMann

Sara McMann came into MMA with a lot of hype, due to her elite level wrestling career, highlighted by winning the Silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. So far she has more than lived up to that hype. Watching Sara fight, you will see she is adapting to the other aspects of the sport very well and continues to improve. With good wins against really capable opponents already, Sara has not scratched the surface of how good she can and will be.

Q: You started wrestling at a young age. What led you in that direction?
A: My older brother wrestled since I was about 3 years old, I started when I was 14. I just kinda grew up around it, going to tournaments to watch him wrestle all my life. So, I hadn't done any sports, so when I decided to do sports, it was the most natural one to me.

Q: Was there one point where you realized you could become as good as you became?
A: No, it was more like a slow progression. I didn't start out saying "I want to be in the Olympic finals" or "I want to be a world champion". It was kind of like slowly resetting my goals. I went and placed top 8 at nationals when I was 16, and I wanted to place higher. Years later I won Nationals and just naturally reset my goals. I wanted to be a World Team member and go to World Championships, then I wanted to win worlds, then I wanted to go to the Olympics. So it really was a natural progression, as the talent and hard work paid off I kept resetting my goals to the highest accomplishment I could.

Q: What was the feeling like winning the Silver at the Olympics?
A: At the time it was completely heart breaking because I wanted the Gold and lost by a point. So I was very close, and at the time felt heart broken, I hadn't reached the goal I wanted to. I have never been a great loser, I am not unsportsmanlike, but when I am off by myself I don't take it with grace. I always pick myself back up and keep working towards my goals. Years later I am much more proud of what I did and the athlete I was, but at the time it was devastating.

Q: What made you decide to go into MMA?
A: I knew I never wanted to wrestle after 2008, and then I decided to have my daughter. As I was pregnant and a little afterwords, I knew I wasn't done with competition. I started with Jiu-Jitsu, which is pretty similar in my eyes. Things that made me successful as a wrestler would make me successful in Jiu-Jitsu. Then someone said "You should do MMA" and I started doing striking and fell in love with striking. If you take wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu and striking then that equals MMA so I started competing in that.

Q: Starting out, because of your wrestling, there was a lot of hype for you. Does that put more pressure on you?
A: No, because I was used to competing under pressure and having high expectations for many years. So I kind of got to the point where I realized pressure is an illusion. You can decide if you allow it to be put on you or not. So coming into MMA no matter what anyone said, I didn't listen and just said "It's a new sport and you are new at it and you don't know how its going to go. So wrestlers have come before and done well and some haven't, and you don't know which you are gonna be. So take it one fight at a time and see how you progress." So I just didn't listen. Most people wished well and had good expectations of me, but I didn't pay attention because before success comes there is a lot of work to be done, so I just buried myself in that work.

Q: Was there one aspect of the sport that was hardest for you to pick up?
A: I think it was getting used to the striking. I didn't mind that the stance was more upright, but it's still harder for me. I can throw and defend a punch and kick. But I can't set people up as well. There is a next step beyond knowing how to do something, knowing when and why to do it. That is something that takes time. I just have to pay my dues and put in the time, and it will come to me. Right now I am very young when it comes to striking and pretty young when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu so I can't really chain things together in combinations yet. I am working hard to do that and expect it to come because I have a good athletic base to build off of.

Q: You turned pro after three amateur fights. How did you know you were ready?
A: Haha, well I didn't really know I was ready, I just couldn't get any amateur fights. It was the next natural step because I couldn't find any amateurs to fight me. It was turn pro or not fight. My manager put it bluntly "people have an easier time getting hit in the face when they get paid for it".

Q: In July you won a unanimous decision against Tonya Evinger. Everyone looks to finish, but does going three rounds with someone like her help you grow as a fighter?
A: Yeah. One of the things that helped me out is, wrestling at this point had gone down to each match was 4 to 6 minutes. I knew how I could hold up for 4 to 6 minutes, but I wasn't sure about the pacing for a 15 minute fight and possibly 25 minute fight. So I was nervous about if I would get tired and run low on fuel because I was used to shorter rounds. I was really happy cause I realized I had enough conditioning to go 15 minutes. That has opened up my game cause now I know I can go hard for 15 minutes.

Q: Your last fight was a win over Raquel Pa'aluhi, overall how satisfied were you with your performance?
A: I definitely have areas that I need to correct. I didn't control her on the ground as well as I would have liked. I let her get her knee on the inside and push me back to the feet. I didn't mind it at the time, but looking back I should have controlled it a little tighter. My striking is coming along, I give myself a B or B+ in my striking, but considering the time I have had formal instruction, that's not a bad grade. But I have areas to improve and look forward to that work cause its a fun sport to do.

Q: Sometimes when talking about the sport, people will say "she is the wrestler". Do you feel people still think of you as just a wrestler and don't respect your other areas?
A: No, because truthfully, sometimes I still feel like a wrestler in the MMA world. I think I still have yet to amateur more as an MMA fighter. I am completely proud of my wrestling background and am still part of the wrestling family. So it doesn't bother me cause wrestling is my first love. When wrestlers write me they say my hands are coming along really well. I don't think people don't respect the rest of my game.

Q: When I talk to people in the media, you are really popular with them and they always say how nice you are. Is that something you make an effort at?
A: Really, I do good interviews cause I can be myself. I really am a nice person, and it's strange I wound up in MMA as my sport because, 95 percent of the time I am a nice person and help people out, I am more like a hippie. But that 5 percent of the time I can be mean. Sports are different from the rest of my personality.

Q: You have recently been here training with Jessica Eye. Whats that been like?
A: It's been an awesome experience. We plan on training together a lot now because her strengths are my weakest area and my strengths are her weakest area. So to round out our games we can use each other. In the short time I was here I learned a lot about myself as a striker and I could feel her wrestling improving after a few practices. She is strong and adaptable. I think we can help each other a lot.

Q: I also interviewed her today and she said she thinks you fly under the radar and should be with Bellator or Strikeforce, what does that mean for another fighter to say?
A: Its a huge compliment. She has excellent coaches and training partners and knows a lot. So its a huge compliment. I will be in Bellator or Strikeforce. I just want more experience so when i am there I am more complete. I don't want to have a weakness in my game. Another top level fighter saying it is a big compliment.

Q: Do you feel sometimes females rush it and step up to Bellator or Strikeforce to early?
A: Sometimes I think, you don't want to miss your opportunity so if they call you, you wanna say yes. It's hard to tell if you are at that level. That's what I love about wrestling, nobody tells you, if you go to tournaments and are good enough to go to the finals, you make the finals or else are on the backside. That's the way it goes, natural selection process. Sometimes girls think they are ready and make one error and it can cost them the fight. It isn't to early, its just hard to know how you math-up with girls that level.

Q: Any idea whats next for you?
A: I am not sure. I have two more fights with Pro Elite and some others have talked with my manager. I don't have a lack of promotions trying to get me fights, its just whether the timing is right and the opponent is right. Monte Cox is my manager and he basically is choosing my opponents for me, promotions and price. I might have a great match but if the promotion is only gonna pay 500/500 then he is like "No, she is a high level fighter and a tough opponent, and we won't do it for that price". He watches out for me really well.

Q: Before we finish anyone you want to thank?
A: I want to thank my boyfriend Trent Goodale who helps me out in the wrestling aspects of fighting, Cody Freeland, my striking coach and my Jiu-Jitsu coach Jimmy Fowler. And I want to thank Strong Style MMA for having me here. They are awesome.

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